My Week in Words: October 13

Another week, and a wide variety of articles that needed writing. What made this different was that on several, I profiled interesting people who live and work in Alexandria.

That kind of thing — meeting people, talking to them and hearing their stories — is definitely something I very much enjoy. It gets me out the office, which is never a bad thing.

Old Town North small area plan update

Things got off to a good start this week as I watched both the city’s planning commission and city council discuss the revamp of the North Old Town small area plan.

Not touched since 1992, the plan is getting a facelift, and last week city staff gave updates to both bodies on its progress. Adoption is apparently expected early next year.

These meetings can be pretty dense, as there’s a lot of discussion about process and all sorts of things that may not necessarily make it into print.

So I watched both on video from the comfort and relative privacy of my desk, took copious notes and then set about making it into a vaguely readable article.

Rather than go chronologically through the meetings, I always try and identify some of the big themes, reasoning that keeps it much more interesting for everyone, me included.

It’s definitely going to be something to keep an eye on, especially if the timeline slips at all.

Duke Street homicide

Very little by way of updates on this story, as the deceased’s wife was arrested for his murder and charged late the previous Wednesday.

In a sense, this story has been a largely online-focused one, as I’ve been updating our story on the website long before anything goes into print.

It might make for some interesting trial coverage in the future, though.

Former police officer Peter Laboy gets donation

In 2013, now-retired Alexandria Police Department officer Peter Laboy was shot in the head during a routine traffic stop.

I hadn’t moved to Alexandria when it happened — he was shot in the February and I moved in the June — but it was a major incident, especially as it was so close to a school that was in session.

It took us a while, but we managed to get an interview with Laboy, who is now medically retired and in the process of beginning a new chapter.

The interview came because he received a donation from OnStar and was one of 20 nationwide to do so, but that donation was frankly secondary to telling his story. PR people, don’t hate me.

In writing, I wanted to try and convey his memories of that day as early as possible, as it then led perfectly into the present. It was nice to play around with a short second paragraph too, and do something different in my lede.

Sandy Modell to retire as DASH general manager

About a month ago, the general manager of the city’s bus system announced her retirement, so naturally I wanted to do an interview with her.

It was a while ago, but I spent a good chunk of a Friday afternoon in her office, listening to her talk about what it was like to build up DASH from almost nothing.

She joined in 1984, and the service started in 1984. Therefore, she’s seen it all.

I ended up with a 90-minute recording of our interview, which was a nightmare to transcribe and very time-consuming, but it was fascinating.

Speaking of transcribing, that was my big lesson: Don’t leave all your transcribing to the day you intend to write an article, especially when you need to transcribe a long interview. It can make things very difficult.

It was absolutely fascinating to talk to her about her experiences in Alexandria, and also in Harrisonburg where she began her career.

Profile of U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan

Something a little bit different this week too, as I contributed to our Living section and got a byline out of it, as opposed to when I put the calendar together every week.

For this, I profile the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, who used to live in Old Town. She began her new job in January, and we’d been trying to schedule an interview for a while.

It sounds like an interesting country, especially with its 800-mile border with Afghanistan and the ever-present Russians lurking nearby in what was once a Soviet republic.

It’s always nice to meet and interview people doing some good in the world, especially if they’re from Alexandria and so within our coverage area.

The Seminary Hill Cup: a very civilized rivalry

Last Friday, I had the enviable task of going to Episcopal High School for the Seminary Hill Cup, its annual rivalry slate of fixtures against St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes.

The two schools are within a mile of each other, and this rivalry primarily involves their girls sports teams. This year though, Episcopal dragged in some temporary lights for their big field for a football game.

That football game was the main focus of my coverage, although I did a long brief on the Saints’ field hockey team, which is still unbeaten.

The football was a bit of a beat-down as Episcopal won 42–3, albeit after giving up a ton of penalty yardage to their opponents.

Meanwhile, the field hockey game ended in a comfortable 5–1 win for St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes.

I have to say, it was perhaps the most civilized rivalry I’ve ever come across.

A lot of the student-athletes know each other, and everyone seemed very polite and respectful, something I must say I’m not used to in rivalries where I’m from.

Even better, the dinner the school laid on was spectacular.

So that’s a definite win.